In the Fall of 1969 before Trinity College admitted women, Hope Morgan Ward, a North Carolina native, stepped onto Duke Women’s College campus full of aspirations.
A religion and English double major, Trinity ’73 and ’78, Ward graduated from a small rural high school in North Carolina and earned a grant to attend Duke, which would otherwise have been out of her family’s financial reach. Now a bishop for the United Methodist Church, 41 years later, Ward has been named as one of the newest members of the Board of Trustees.
“It made my time at Duke possible,” Ward said. “It was a gracious investment of [the University] in a young person. I’ve been extremely grateful and haven’t forgotten.”
Ward was elected a bishop of the United Methodist Church in Mississippi in 2004, where she currently leads 190,000 United Methodists in more than 1,000 congregations, according to a Duke news release.
She has worked on racial conciliation projects through partnerships with South Africa and Zimbabwe, and has spent the majority of her first years as a bishop working on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, which Ward said have helped to place 13,000 families back in their homes.
Ward is the second female bishop ever to be elected to serve in the denomination’s nine-state Southeastern Jurisdiction.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity being a part of the changing face of the church and of the world,” Ward said. The non-traditional leadership role has allowed her to inspire young women both inside and outside the church community, she added.
After completing her undergraduate degree at Duke, Ward worked as a teacher and mission leader before enrolling in the Divinity School as part of a church learning opportunity, which eventually led Ward to complete a Master’s of Divinity program.
“As I took these courses extended to people in the community, I became more engaged in what was offered,” she said. “I have never been the most linear person. Doors open and horizons beckon along the way.”
Since then, Ward has served on the Divinity School’s Board of Visitors and the Duke Alumni Association’s Board of Directors. She is also involved in a bishops’ leadership development group through the Divinity School.
“She’s been a good friend to the Divinity School for many years who is involved in a variety of ways,” former Divinity School Dean Gregory Jones said. “People are drawn to her—she’s a great colleague who brings people together. She’s a bridge builder.”
Jones met Ward 28 years ago in a reflection group she was leading for the Divinity School.
“She is always pressing us to think larger and dream bigger,” Jones said. “I always think of her when I think of a larger future for the [Divinity] School, University or for the church.”
Ward will be joining the academic affairs committee, which oversees all activities that support the academic mission of the University.
“I’m eager to learn more about the broad spectrum of academic and research efforts at Duke,” Ward said. “Having been more focused on the Divinity School, I am very aware of that part, and I have a lot to learn from the other areas.”
She noted that she was pointed toward Duke by her pastor with whom she watched Duke Basketball games as a little girl.
Upon arriving she described “loving, loving exploring all sorts of possibilities,” but credits the summer of 1972 working with religion professors Carol and Eric Meyers in Israel as one of her most memorable experiences while at Duke.
“I once fancied myself an archaeologist,” Ward said. “My life took a different turn, but it was a great adventure.”
She happily recalled a later trip to Israel several years ago when she spotted some students digging in blue shirts. When she approached them, she discovered they were Duke students traveling with the Meyers.
“She’s a special person, who is [one] of over 1,000 students [in this program] through the years, and not all had the connections that she did,” Meyers said. “When you’re digging in the ground... uncovering coins and artifacts from 2,000 years ago in the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, you really have an opportunity to discover [yourself]. This happened to Hope and many other students.”
In addition to her travels to Israel, Ward spent a semester in the United Kingdom studying English literature, British literature and history.
“These were important times expanding my horizons, helping me be the global person I always wanted to be through books,” Ward said. “Duke helped me actually have that global experience.”
Ward noted that Duke has challenged and broadened her horizons, and has helped her communicate the mission of the church in the United States and internationally.
“I’m still a learner at Duke after all these years and will continue to be,” Ward said. “I’m sure I will be greatly inspired by the things that are going on at Duke.”